Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bullies Versus Victims

By now, someone has probably sent you a link to the very dramatic speech made by a news anchor on WKBT-TV in Wisconsin in response to an email from a listener. Maybe you saw it on Ellen, or BT or any of the millions of other places it's showing and being discussed.

What Jennifer Livingston had to say on her morning news show was in response to an email from a viewer which upset her and which her husband posted to facebook and which has brought in a lot of reaction. Livingston's speech was well written and well delivered. She's now being hailed as a hero in the ongoing battle against the scourge of bullying.

I'm not in the "Rah-rah, You tell 'em sister!" camp on this one. Yes, she got an email that was tough to read, but that doesn't make her a victim of bullying.

Read the email Livingston conveniently puts on the screen. I don't think it uses the word fat and it doesn't appear to be rude or nasty. It makes no threats. The writer didn't start a campaign against her, didn't rally other people, didn't name-call. The email suggests that as someone who appears in public daily, Livingston is not setting a good example by choosing to be obese. When did pointing out the obvious become bullying? Was it a necessary email? No. Was it kind? No. But was it really bullying?

Read it again, and then listen to Livingstone. The only one calling her fat is the anchor herself. She not only calls herself fat, she agrees with the writer that she's obese. The letter suggests that her obesity does not provide a good example to the community, which she admits and agrees to before addressing the perils of bullying.

But I was also struck by a phrase the email writer used: "choosing to be obese".

As someone who struggles with their weight, I know that for me, luckily, obesity is a choice. I choose the size and shape of my body every day. Every time I cook a meal, buy a meal, eat a meal or take a drink, I choose what I look like. Every time I choose to watch Sex and the City episodes instead of exercising, I'm living my priorities. Maybe being fit and healthy is less of a priority than making sure a work project is complete. Maybe being fit and healthy is less of a priority than getting the kids to their ballet or archery lessons. Those are valid choices. But barring a medical condition, they ARE choices, and once you embrace that fact, you'll be happier for it because you will either find a way to match your actions to your beliefs or accept that your actions already do match your beliefs.

Jennifer Livingston might not like what her writer said, but that doesn't make the writer a bully. Save your tears for the real victims of bullying: kids who are beaten up at school and grownups who are beaten down at work. Livingston is clearly a strong woman and is in the enviable position of having a job on TV. It thrills me that we now live in a time when jobs like hers are no longer predicated on looks. I'd rather see her celebrate the progress we've made than try to use viewer mail as an opportunity to get international attention and a guest spot on Ellen.


  1. High time somebody offered a reality check on a disturbing element in our daily discourse for at least 20 years now. The shoot-from-the-lip, drama queenesque, politically correct response to a mere e-mail. Where has all the joy gone? Well at least Ms. Livingston has achieved her "15 minutes of fame" with Ellen. Wonder if that was her goal all along?

  2. Seriously, did you even watch the video?

    It has nothing to do with Jennifer being overweight, fat, obese - use whatever word you want. She makes no apologies for her weight, and the message has nothing to do with her being fat, overweight, obese. All words she uses, and is comfortable doing so.

    The message is about how hurtful it can be - ESPECIALLY FOR A CHILD - to be judged on their appearance, and bullied because of it.

    "If you are at home, and you are talking about the fat news lady, then guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat. We need to teach our children to be kind, not critical, and we need to do that by example."

    and further:
    "To all the children out there who feel lost, who are struggling with your weight, with the colour of your skin, your sexual preference, your disability, even the acne on your face...listen to me right now. Do NOT let your self-worth be defined by bullies. Learn from my experience that the cruel words of one, are nothing compared to the shouts of many."

    Anytime you are commenting on someone's appearance in a negative way, you are working to tear them down, not build them up. In my mind, that pretty much defines a bully.

    Shame on you for reducing this to "I make good choices and you should too."


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